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I Got A Good Review! May 22, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Books, Writing.
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From Kirkus Reviews (click here to go to Kirkus Magazine):

Berkin’s (Cut to Wagstaff, 2012) second Wagstaff adventure pits his protagonist against the Rhode Island mob.
En route to a reunion at Brown University, Wagstaff stops in Las Vegas, where he thwarts a carjacking and saves Alfie Palumbo’s life. Alfie is the son of a Mafia chief from Rhode Island, but he’s no hoodlum; he’s an upstanding art historian who happens to have a disreputable dad. Nor is Wagstaff an ordinary good Samaritan; he freelances as an investigator for a mysterious, “off-the-books” intelligence agency. Key to his success is his faith in “Jungian synchronicities”; in other words, he doesn’t believe in coincidence. Instead, he filters occurrences through his encyclopedic knowledge of film. For example, if something reminds him of a movie, he overlays that film’s plot on what’s actually taking place—then his brain fizzes into action, making unusual connections.

When he realizes that Alfie is one of the same Palumbos who ran his own hometown, he decides to find out who’s behind the attempted murder. The Palumbo family is thrilled by this, and they provide him with a bodyguard and other assistance—but can they be trusted? Central to the mystery are a lost Caravaggio painting that Alfie uncovered in an Italian monastery and an art heist from the 1980s. But when a local man winds up dead in a dumpster, Wagstaff worries that he could be next.

High-spirited, high-stakes mayhem fills every page; there are nonstop scrapes and chases, wise-guy jokes, and references to everything from The Gong Show to Star Trek, The Godfather, and even the 1990 film The Freshman. Berkin’s story is preposterous and his leading man improbable—but the novel’s endearing goofiness makes this a winning combination. Film buffs will love spotting the various movie references (and Wagstaff’s disquisition on Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window), while action fans will find plenty here to raise their heart rates. Readers shouldn’t read this book while hungry, though, as Wagstaff’s most intense nostalgia is for Rhode Island cuisine—all described in detail that will leave readers drooling.
Wacky, worldly Wagstaff is a winner.

Yee-haw!

I’m glad they liked it!

Working on getting some more reviews… keep watching this blog for updates!

Get your copy by clicking here! DO IT!

Random Baseball Card Of The Day: 1973 Carlton Fisk May 20, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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Fisk was an all-star catcher for many seasons with the Red Sox, and will forever be a Boston fan favorite for his game winning home run in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, back when such “we almost broke the curse!” moments still had meaning.

He’d push the then-Red Sox ownership for a higher salary, and GM Haywood Sullivan stupidly let him go as a free agent to the Chicago White Sox, where he’d spend the next dozen seasons or so remaining one of the best catchers in the league. Stats-wise, he’d have his best season in 1985 with the ChiSox when he hit 37 homers and knocked in 107. He’d also catch a Tom Seaver no-hitter.

Needless to say, Fisk had no problems getting into the Hall of Fame.

As much as he constantly feuded with my Yankees and was in the middle of home plate collisions that led to some legendary bench-clearing brawls in the late ’70s, I always liked Fish as a player. He had constant enthusiasm for the game and an intensity you could feel just watching.

Just watch him take a swing at Lou Piniella after Piniella barrels over him at the plate, leading to a free for all back in 1976. Jeez, those two teams absolutely HATED each other in the ’70s! And I vividly remember Sox fans NEVER forgiving the Yankees for this one since Bill Lee got hurt and wound up on the DL.

I also like this 1973 card of him since he looks like he’s staring down some schmuck who owes him money. Maybe it’s Heywood Sullivan. Or maybe it’s Lou Piniella. Who knows?

Random Baseball Card Of The Day: 1963 Vada Pinson May 19, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Baseball, Baseball Cards, Uncategorized.
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Pinson played 18 years in the big leagues from 1958 to 1976, and for the first half of his career with the Reds, was one of the best hitters in the NL. The early 1960s pre-big-Red-machine version of the Reds was quite the team, with Pinson and Frank Robinson leading the bats. They’d only manage one pennant in 1961, and they’d lose to my Yankees in the Series in five games. I mean, come on, the 1961 Yankees? Who the hell could beat them?

Back in the NL, the Dodgers, Giants and Cardinals were very tough competition. Even the Pirates and Phillies managed to get in on pennant races in the early 60s (though the Phillies would blow their chance spectacularly in 1964).

At a yardsale many years ago, I remember buying a box of assorted Topps cards from the late 1950s and early 1960s, all lovingly placed in plastic sleeves. Whoever sold them to me must have counted Vada Pinson, Willie Davis and Ted Kluszewski as their favorite players, since there were multiple cards from multiple years of all three of those guys. I don’t think I got some sort of incredible bargain on the cards, although I paid less than they’re worth.

I think what sold me was the welcome novelty of finding baseball cards at a yardsale that didn’t turn out to be early 1990s common junk from Donruss or Score. I STILL see shrinkwrapped boxes of those things turn up at thrift stores from time to time. Nobody wants them, they’re barely above worthless since they are so easy to find. Seeing them always reminds me of the heady days of baseball-cards-as-investment-commodity that pretty much ruined the hobby of collecting the damn things back in the late 80s-early 90s. Guilty Confession: I have a box of 300+ Brady Anderson rookie cards I think I paid five bucks for back then. Thirty years later and they’re worth less than that. I think they’re in the same box as my 1990 Classic Draft Picks set that card dealers pushed on the basis of Tod Van Poppel (THE NEXT NOLAN RYAN!!!!!!!) being in it. Despite the presence of Chipper Jones & Mike Mussina in that set, it’s STILL worth less than what I paid for it.

But I digress.

I like Pinson’s smile on his 1963 card. He looks like he’s having a real good time out there. Kinda like the good time I had collecting cards once upon a time when you got 10 in a pack for a dime and finding older cards of legendary stars only ran you a couple of bucks and did I mention that we also tied an onion to our belts, which was the fashion of the time?

Meh.

I hope Vada had a good time playing and later coaching in the 1970s and 1980s, because he died WAY too young at age 57 from stroke complications. RIP, slugger.

Random Baseball Card Of The Day: 1979 Jim Sundberg May 18, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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Sundberg was probably the top defensive catcher in baseball during the late ’70s. He won six Gold Gloves and made the All-Star team a few times. The only other catcher of the era I can think came close to him throwing out runners was Johnny Bench.

What’s interesting is how many seasons he barely managed to hit .200 while doing so. In his second season in the majors as full-time catcher for the Rangers, he finished the season batting .199!

Normally you’d send a guy down to the minors for hitting that poor, but not Sundberg. He was just too damn good in the field and at managing the pitching staff. In the pre-sabremetric days, I’m sure they figured the amount of runs he prevented defensively made up for the weak bat, and with the DH a relatively new addition to the league, they figured the trade-off was worth it.

He managed a few seasons with a respectable average, hitting over .250, into the .270s, but never over the magic .300. And his glove never failed him.

He spent most of his career with the Rangers, but got dealt to Milwaukee for one season, and then to the Royals, where he earned his World Series ring in 1985. After a brief stint with the Cubs, he finished his career back where he started in Texas.

Now? He’s a Vice President with the Rangers, working alongside Nolan Ryan. And he’s a motivational speaker. I’m sure going out there every day with that piss-poor batting average while still managing to be an all star is frequent among his topics.

I doubt with today’s stats-heavy number crunching and super-hot-take sports media that anyone similar would be given a chance out there. We shall not see his like again.

Wagstaff’s Picks: Preakness 2017 May 18, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Horse Racing.
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Picking the Preakness is my least favorite part of the Triple Crown sequence, to be honest. The field is smaller (so much for big exotics pools) and the did-they-run-in-earlier-legs factor isn’t as strong (so much for nailing some Johnny-come-lately longshot).

I’m not sure if I’ll bet on this one, since I’d have to pick the 4/5 morning line favorite along with everyone else, Derby winner #4 Always Dreaming.

BUT – there are other horses that might sneak in there, so here are some brief thoughts on what I see.

I like #1 Multiplier, with solid speeds and closing, a well rested non-Derby runner stuck with the rail, but with Joel Rosario riding, that might not factor in as much. Multiplier won the G3 Illinois Derby and has never competed at the G1 level, but the works look great. Always Dreaming will want to set the pace for this thing and go gate to wire, but I could see Multiplier dueling from the start. And with a morning line of 30-1, an across-the-board bet might pay off here.

At the other end of the field, #10 Conquest Mo Money, should also get in on an early speed duel, and could have lasting power to the end. Works look good, and the horse can compete at this level, even if the trainer and jockey stats look weak. And he’s got a morning line of 50-1!

Wild card factor? I’d have to go with #2 Cloud Computing. This one’s a total jockey/trainer angle. Castellano and Brown are very often winners together, and the horse has the potential to hit the speeds necessary, although I’m questionable about his ability to close out over the speed duelers mentioned above. He’s at 12-1, I’d probably throw him into a trifecta or superfecta if I went in that direction. We’ll have to see how much I drink that afternoon. With 50 cent trifectas and 10 cent supers, I might not need much to take some chances here.

That sound you hear is the Wagstaff Retirement Fund going down the drain….

Random Baseball Card Of The Day: 1971 Bert Blyleven May 17, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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Bert “be in”-Blyleven, as Chris Berman nicknamed him, finally made it into the Hall of Fame in 2011 after FOURTEEN years of being dissed in the voting.

He bounced around from team to team, spending most of his career with the Minnsota Twins, who’d retire his number 28. While he never got the hype that the other big-name pitchers of his era got, like Seaver or Guidry or Carlton or Palmer, his stats by the end are just as impressive, if not more so. He never reached the magic 300 win number, but he piled up 3701 strikeouts (Number 5 all time) and an impressive 60 shutouts (Number 9 all time).

Blyleven had the most amazing curve ball I’ve ever seen. The damn thing followed weird arcs that made you think there was some sort of invisible lucite loop between the mound and the plate that Blyleven merely pushed the ball into. It was some “nasty shit,” as we used to say on the field.

Blyleven’s other nasty shit was playing pranks on his teammates, most notably setting their shoelaces on fire.

Hmmm…. is there a hall of fame for that?

Bert has a website – check it out!

Random Baseball Card Of The Day: 1979 Mark Lee May 16, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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A reliever with the Padres and Pirates for a few years, he most recently was the GM of a minor league team in Amarillo.

But THOSE GLASSES!

I haven’t seen guys wear that style since high school. It’s why the card jumped out at me, I guess.

Sometimes the old cards wake up baseball memories, other times I’m fascinated by the look of the player, the artificiality of the pose, or some other random factor.

 

 

He could stunt-double for Bubbles from Trailer Park Boys.

 

Here’s a more recent pic. The ‘stache is more impressive, and it’s nice to see he never got lasik. Keep that trademark, Mark!

Random Baseball Card Of The Day: 1967 Phil Regan May 15, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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Regan was a solid reliever in the mid 1960s who had his best season with the 1966 Dodgers.  After some mediocre years with Detroit, he got dealt to Los Angeles in December 1965. In 1966, coming out of the bullpen to support the amazing rotation of Koufax, Drysdale, Osteen and Sutton, Regan went 14-1 with a 1.62 ERA and 21 saves to help the Dodgers grab the pennant.  And this was when 21 saves was a lot.

They’d lose to a rising Baltimore Orioles team in the series, and with Koufax’ retirement at the end of the season, enter a rebuild that would eventually result in the 1970s Dodgers, with the pitching rotation led by Sutton, winning 3 pennants. The immediate next few NL years would belong to Bob Gibson’s Cardinals, the Miracle Mets, Roberto Clemente’s Pirates and the nascent Big Red Machine.

He got traded later on to the Cubs and White Sox and had a brief managerial stint at Baltimore in 1995. He’d do a lot of minor league managing and minor league pitch coaching until he retired in 2015 at the age of 78.

78?? Talk about a baseball man!

 

Random Baseball Card of the Day: 1964 Tops In NL May 14, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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53 years later, and I think there’s an excellent argument that this is STILL the case.

I rode an airplane with Mays once, some years back. First, from my seat, I see a guy who looks way too much like Willie Mays get on board. I’m thinking I’m seeing things until he walks by and I spot the bag he’s carrying has a big 24 on it, as well as a silhouette illustration of Mays at the plate. And then he put his hand on my seat to steady himself as he walked by, and I couldn’t miss the World Series ring.

He regularly wears it? I thought….

He took up an entire row in the back of the plane and smoked like a chimney for most of the flight.

When I walked back there to use the bathroom, I thought about saying something, but by taking up that entire row and burying himself in a magazine, I got the vibe that he wanted privacy. So, I just smiled at him. He went back to his magazine.

I still feel bad I didn’t at least tell him how great he is. And I’m sure he didn’t care, since that’s probably all people ever tell him anyway, except maybe “Sir, you can’t smoke in here.”

If I ever see Hank Aaron, I’ll be sure to say something. Fuck whatever magazine he’s reading. He’s gonna damn well know how great I think HE is!

Happy Mother’s Day!

Random Baseball Card Of The Day: 1972 Steve Hamilton May 13, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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Steve Hamilton had a decent run as a relief pitcher for mostly the Yankees in the mid 1960s. He bounced from team to team afterwards, finishing his career with the Cubs around the time this card was issued.

He got some post season play but no rings, pitching for the Yankees in their series losses of ’63 and ’64 before their pre-Steinbrenner era drought, and for the Giants in their ’71 NLCS loss to Pittsburgh.

But what makes Hamilton stand out are two offbeat items – for starters, Hamilton also played in the NBA, for the Minneapolis Lakers from 1958 to 1960. This makes him one of only two people to play in both an NBA championship and a World Series. But unlike the other guy who did it, Gene Conley (amazingly on the very Boston Celtics team defeating Hamilton’s Laker team in the 1959 finals), Hamilton lost in both.

Hamilton’s other stand out talent is far more entertaining. He was one of the few guys out there to throw the notoriously stupid-yet-entertaining “eephus pitch,” a high arcing slow lob also known as the “folly floater.” You’d see it turn up in games that really didn’t matter when people felt like screwing around. But sometimes, you’d get an embarrassing out with it, and someone would post a clip of it 40+ years later on some new-fangled technology called youtube.

A Yankees/Indians double header in 1970 is a painful thing to think about… at least Hamilton & Horton made this moment entertaining. I love Horton’s all-fours crawl to the dugout.

Hamilton died of colon cancer at only age 63 in 1997. Get those colonoscopies, people. RIP.